Jerry Brown and the Democrats are about to need California’s petition circulators to pull out all the stops for him. The compromise tax initiative from Brown and a teachers’ union has come so late that circulators may need to produce an inhuman 1 million-plus signatures in three short weeks in late April and early May.
Brown and his allies should be very, very nervous about that – and not just because of the difficult logistics.
Circulators aren’t big fans of Brown and the Democrats right now. Their dislike of the governor and the majority party isn’t ideological. It’s about business.
Last year, Brown signed Democratic legislation that limited ballot initiatives to statewide general elections.
Whatever you thought of that move as a matter of policy or politics, there was one clear loser in the new law: petition circulators.
By restricting the initiative process, the legislation likely meant less work time – and ultimately less pay – for many circulators.
The memory of this is still fresh. And now Brown and the Democrats need these people whose livelihoods they just limited.
It will be fascinating to watch. The logistical challenges of producing so many signatures so fast are significant. Pressure will have to be brought to bear on the attorney general, the secretary of state, and the county clerks who do verification. To get that many signatures, Brown and the Democrats likely will be paying huge per-signature costs — $5 per sig to the circulator alone. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the qualification cost $6 million.
They’ll need every possible signature from every part of the California signature gathering business. If a few key coordinators, steamed at the SB 202 legislation, were to hold back or play games, they could threaten the timely qualification of the measure.
Would circulators hold a grudge? If they did, it wouldn’t be the first time. Some circulators declined to work on a petition for a constitutional convention three years ago because backers of the idea seemed to suggest they would use the convention to limit the initiative process. Whether those circulator protests were significant is hard to know; the reason the convention measure failed is that there wasn’t enough money put behind it to make it real.
But there is the real possibility that Brown and the Democrats may be about to receive some payback, from the folks out there on the streets.